It’s a gutsy move for Stephan Boillon: The founder and chef of El Floridano, the superb international sandwich truck, is planning to open a full-service restaurant and bakery on Georgia Avenue NW in the Park View area south of Petworth. It’d be a stretch to call the neighborhood, in the parlance of developers and real estate agents everywhere, “in transition.”
But Boillon has his reasons for signing a 10-year lease for the former Brown’s Caribbean Bakery at 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, and they start in the kitchen. The space is crammed with all manner of tantalizing equipment: pizza ovens, rotating decks ovens, industrial dough mixers, dough sheeters, dough shapers, a walk-in and much more.
Yes, the wealth of kitchen gadgetry appealed to the 37-year-old chef, but so did the economics of the deal. “The price was right,” he notes. “I’m priced out of everywhere else. I just saved so much money with all the equipment here.”
Boillon is going into the brick-and-mortar business with his eyes wide open. His business plan — at least at present — includes a strategy to open a retail and wholesale bakery, offering not only artisanal breads but also the some of the sweet Jamaican loaves once sold by the previous tenant.
“I want to keep doing the wholesale bread,” says Boillon, noting that he’s hiring the former pastry chef from one of his earlier career stops, Chef Allen’s, in the Miami area. “I might as well make extra while I can.”
What’s more, Boillon is developing a cuisine that draws on his formative cooking experiences in South Florida, that unique culinary incubator that combines Caribbean and Latin American influences. He’s envisioning small plates, long braises, gourmet pizzas, Jamaican patties and other dishes.
“I’m trying to coin a term right now: Neuvo Retro,” Boillon says. “Just modernized versions of a lot of comfort foods.”
But Boillon is quick to add: “Once everything kind of falls into place, it’s going to dictate the menu a lot more.”
Boillon’s new place also will serve as the commercial kitchen for El Floridano, which will continue to roll through D.C. neighborhoods, selling its short menu of sandwiches, but with a new supplemental mission — serving as a rolling billboard for the brick-and-mortar space. The relationship between the chef’s fixed location and his food truck (and possible wholesale bakery) is what inspired his name for the place: Mothership.
“ ‘The Hub’ sounded kind of weird,” Boillon notes.
The chef has plenty of work to do before he opens (he hopes) in mid-May. He’s building two new restrooms, converting a freezer into a walk-in cooler, laying new pipes, applying for a full liquor license and drawing up plans to convert a former carryout into a full-service 45-seat plus restaurant. All on a shoestring budget, with the help of a single silent investor.
Oh, yes, he’s running a food truck, too, in between everything else.